Photography / Hands-on Review

A Perfect Match: The Canon 11-24mm f/4 Lens and the Newest NYC Subway Station

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In what was a somewhat passed-right-through part of Manhattan, a new “neighborhood” is emerging and at its heart is a transportation link. Nothing new, really, for the City of New York—neighborhoods have always followed the availability of transportation. From the ferries and then bridges that connected Brooklyn to Manhattan, to the growth of The Bronx when the IRT arrived; this is just the way it is. And to be sure, this new part of town is not a pastoral neighborhood-to-be, but its hustle will never become a bustle without the new Hudson Yards subway stop.

All photographs © John R. Harris


24mm; ISO 400; f/6.3; 1/1250-second


11mm; ISO 400; f/4; 1/1600-second

This veritable Oz is sprouting just to the west of our retail home at Ninth Avenue and 34th Street. Several massive skyscrapers, retail and cultural spaces and a public square are all connected to the rest of the city by this new subway station that extends the 7 train almost to the Hudson River. The main station entrance seems to emerge from the ground like a cobra—hooded, protected, biding in the newly planted brush at 34th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. The future remains to be seen for this part of Manhattan, of course, but with the massive investments around the High Line, which runs along the Western edge of the Hudson Yards, and the ceaseless demand for real estate opportunities, my feeling is that what was once an overlooked part of the city will soon be a commercial and cultural hub to rival a similar development from generations earlier—Rockefeller Center.


 

11mm; f/5; 1/30-second


 

24mm; f/4; 1/60-second


 

11mm; f/4.5; 1/40-second

Using the 11-24mm lens, The Funktional Vibrations mosaic by Xenobia Bailey takes on different characteristics, depending on focal length and proximity.
 

For visitors to the B&H SuperStore, already very close to the A-C-E subway line, this station is a somewhat more bucolic entrance to our part of town and, hopefully, another reason for you to come see us. To show off this new subway station, I brought the also-new and undoubtedly impressive Canon 11-24mm f/4L USM Lens on an EOS 6D to this new terminus, whose futuristic (does that word even mean anything anymore?) design and funky, celestial-inspired mosaics are ideal for a lens with such a wide set of focal lengths.

The lens is large—heavier and longer than similar zooms from Nikon and Sigma and the well-known workhorse EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II, but its feel is wonderful and both the zoom and manual focus action are as smooth as you would ever want. The bulbous front element protrudes almost as far as the built-in lens hood, which is its sole protection from impact. With its front-heavy build and no thread to attach a protective filter, you must be very careful not to scratch or otherwise damage the lens. This is definitely a concern, but something that is relatively commonplace with extreme wide-angle lenses; the difference in this case being its size and weight. Between the focus and zoom rings, this weather-sealed barrel has an AF/MF selector switch and the distance scale—nothing else. The focal-length scale is between the zoom ring and the lens mount, and that’s pretty much it.



Passageway from turnstiles to mezzanine at 11mm focal length
 

Outwardly, the lens is unadorned, plain, but on the inside it is incredible. The one Super UD (Ultra Low Dispersion) and one UD element help to reduce chromatic aberrations significantly for improved clarity and color accuracy. Four aspherical elements help to minimize distortions throughout the zoom range. Yes, there is distortion, a spread, and mild softness of figures in the corners of the frame but, given its ambitious angle of view and in comparison to other similar lenses, it is a minor reservation. Noticeable also is a degree of vignetting at the widest angles when at f/4, but again minimal, and easily corrected in post process if so desired. A Subwavelength Coating (SWC) and an Air Sphere Coating (ASC) have been applied to lens elements to reduce backlit flaring and ghosting for improved light transmission in difficult lighting conditions. This is important, given that with such a wide perspective, sun and other light sources will often be in frame. In my experience and corroborated by many, for optical quality, this lens, the widest full-frame (non-fisheye) lens available, is exceptional.



11mm; f/4; 1/80-second 

Extreme wide angle distorts perspective of escalator (it' s going down).
 

A ring-type Ultrasonic Motor, along with an internal focusing system, high-speed CPU, and optimized AF algorithms, are employed to deliver precise and near-silent autofocus performance, and full-time manual focus override enables precise control. Nine rounded diaphragm blades contribute to pleasing out-of-focus highlights and will create 18-point sun stars. A rear drop-in type filter holder is provided.


11mm; f/10; 1/200-second


11mm; f/5.6; 1/60-second

Escalator to station exit and view across the street from top of escalator
 

While this rectilinear lens is very useful for cityscape and landscape photography—and converging lines and shape and spatial chicanery can be fun in general photography—using it in a tight interior space may be its ideal application. It would be fair to question the usefulness of a zoom lens that is almost all extreme wide-angle, but having the ability to go from an inclusive but still expository 24mm to an 11mm, almost fisheye 126° swath of view without changing lenses and with the confidence of optical excellence, is a true advantage when shooting architecture and real estate—interiors and exteriors. And the Hudson Yards subway station, with its deep escalators, inclined elevators, curved and torquing entrances and colorful art, is the perfect space to show off this very fine lens.



11mm; f/11; 1/250-second 

Discussion 13

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I am looking for ultra wide lense for markII pls let me know if you have 14mm or some other lense for my markII that is to use for Himalaya region of Ladakh...with extreme weather condition..

regard

The 11-14mm is weather sealed, and would have a great build, so you could use it in extreme weather conditions.  You would simply want to make sure you keep the cap on the lens when not shooting to protect the front element.  For the most part, any full frame ultra wide lens will have a built-in lens hood so cannot accept a UV/protective filter. 

I own this lens & it is truly remarkable for both architectural and landscape work. As mentioned though, it does require a dose of healthy paranoia to protect that huge front element.

Perhaps a bit of a side question:  What if any 'permissions' did you need to photograph the subway station?  I could imagine transit police and/or NYPD pouncing on you pretty quickly re: security concerns.  

The MTA specifically allows photography: 

Photography, filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used. Members of the press holding valid identification issued by the New York City Police Department are hereby authorized to use necessary ancillary equipment. All photographic activity must be conducted in accordance with the provisions of this Part.  

Thanks for the post Daniel. Good info.

Thanks for the comment john. Yes, I agree, you need to handle this lens a bit more carefully than most.

In this case, I did not ask for any permissions.  As another comment notes, it is not required and indeed, as I was shooting, there were several MTA employees in the station and at least one NYPD officer passed by without comment.  Perhaps because the station is relatively new and interesting, and many people are photographing it, my lengthy stay was not considered out of the ordinary. And while I do understand your thought process and any photographer should know the rules and their rights regarding photographing in public and private locations, I personally feel that this idea that photographing something is somehow linked to treachorous intentions is blown way out of proportion and is more often used as an easy excuse to shut down or turn away photographers than with any real basis for concern. I'm sure others might disagree, but that has been my experience.

I use it exclusivelt for interior work and architects love it.

Yes jim...for architectural interiors it is ideal, but I have been hearing raves about this lens from all types of photographers, including, recently, an aerial photographer, someone not known for their wide-angle work.

Jared Polen (the FroKnowsPhoto.com guy) recently got to use this lens for some helicoptor shooting over the Las Vegas strip.  He has a video where he reviews and edits about 45 images he took on that excursion in Lightroom...he has some good comments about the lens (as well as what to do/not to do when shooting while hanging out of a helicoptor).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6Iekxzwvn8

Somewhat surprised you were not hassled for taking photographs in the place.

Thanks for the comment William. Nope, not hassled at all. But as another commenter mentioned a similar thought, and as I have been taking pictures in the subways for decades (there is a great and long tradition of doing so), I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the subject of whether we should be hassled or even that being hassled would be considered a normal occurence.  Thanks again.

It's really a great lens, even in infrared!

It sure is.  Thanks Josh.

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